Matthew (Mat) MAGILL


MAGILL, Matthew

Service Number: 3192
Enlisted: 18 August 1915
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 5th Pioneer Battalion
Born: Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia, 19 July 1882
Home Town: Timboon, Corangamite, Victoria
Schooling: Naringal State School
Occupation: Timber Worker
Died: Killed in Action, France, 28 September 1916, aged 34 years
Cemetery: Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Cobden Church of England Roll of Honor, Cobden War Memorial, Timboon Honor Roll
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World War 1 Service

18 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 3192, 23rd Infantry Battalion
26 Nov 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 3192, 23rd Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '14' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Commonwealth embarkation_ship_number: A73 public_note: ''
26 Nov 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 3192, 23rd Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
23 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 58th Infantry Battalion
4 May 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 5th Pioneer Battalion
28 Sep 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 5th Pioneer Battalion

Help us honour Matthew Magill's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Robert Kearney

Private Mathew Magill, 5th Pioneer Battalion 


A small calico bag containing a tattered union Jack, a scratched dog-tag and two damaged photographs, were amongst the few belongings returned to Mathew Magill’s family after his death outside Armentieres in World War I. (Fig. 1) These birthday gift photographs (Fig. 2) were carried by Mathew and retrieved after his death in France, with the 5th Pioneer Battalion. The first photo, poignantly portraying his wife, Sarah Blanche Magill/Dalton, holding baby Blanche Isobel, their youngest child on her lap, flanked by eldest child, John Matthew and two-year-old brother, William Crawford. A second depicting  Lucy May by herself, as it had been deemed necessary, for her to visit Western Australian relatives. The separation caused by the cramped conditions at the Scott’s Creek farm of Sarah’s parents.[3] Women and children having gathered there to work the farm, in the absence of male family members, who were at war.  

The effects of the first world war were far reaching, flowing through to the lives of wives, children and even grandchildren of today. Before leaving for overseas, as was traditional, a photograph was taken of the uniformed soldier and framed for the family[4]. This was to be the only memory of their father held by the two youngest children.

The reasons for recruits volunteering were myriad. Some stemmed from a sense of duty and patriotism towards mother England and allegiance to the king, perhaps also imbued in membership of the Church of England. Pressure to enlist, through presentation of the white feather of cowardice,[5] was another motivation. For others, it was the excitement of adventure, comradeship and a burgeoning nationalism.  

Mathew’s mindset in deciding to volunteer is unknown. He was the father of four young children and was gainfully employed in the Timboon community and well liked[6]. He worked for his sister-in-law, Ethel Maude Tallent, the owner of the” White Star Mine” Curdies, Timboon and assisted on the farm of his father-in-law, William Hardy Dalton, an early settler in the area. He had been a member of the Timboon rifle club[7] and as a farm boy, from the Naringal area, near Warrnambool, would have been quite skilled in rabbit shooting and horse-riding. He was also a capable timber worker, having returned just a few years earlier from Greenbushes in Western Australia and Collie, where he, his brothers and other family members were engaged in the timber industry. These attributes along with his maturity would have been desirable in the armed force, that was to travel to the Middle-East and finally to France.

The second youngest son of Elizabeth McConnell and Crawford Magill, Matthew was born in Naringal, Victoria[8]. Formerly of Ballyrickard, Raloo, Antrim Northern Ireland, his parents had travelled along with Elizabeth’s parent’s, young William Owen McConnell, aged 10, his half-brother and other family members on “The Great Britain”, to start a new life in Australia.   Members of this patriotic family, who considered themselves British and called themselves Scots, were among the volunteers for the first A.I.F. in World War 1.

 The list of nephews, cousins and friends, who volunteered at this time was lengthy. Amongst them we see Mathew’s nephews, Allan Foster McConnell 4557, 14 Battalion-blinded, Ernest McConnell, 2264 4th Light Horse (who enlisted after Mathew was killed), Alexander James McConnell 2689, 23 battalion, 5th Machine Gun Regiment, Stanley Crawford John McConnell, depot and cousins, William McConnell, 502 24 Battalion, James McConnell,693 Machine Gun regiment to name just a few.[9] Obviously, the example of his relatives and friends leaving for the front and the fact that his Lyon cousins-in-law and close friends were departing, must have had a strong influence on Mathew’s decision.  

Mathew’s Attestation paper records him as being thirty-three years of age, when he enlists on the 18th August 1915 and that he was the married father of four children.[10] Newspapers of the time publicise his signing up for duty. Local celebrations were held according to these reports on men answering the call.[11] Mathew on one occasion is recorded as speaking at a gathering encouraging others to follow his lead.

His Statement of Service[12] records Mathew as being part of the 7th Reinforcement 23rd Battalion and then being transferred to the 58th Battalion, who then embarked to join the British Expeditionary Force at Alexandria. After arriving, much of what Mat wrote in letters and cards to family was light-hearted and to reassure them, that he was faring well. One card to his youngest son, William Crawford was to contrast the appearance of children in Alexandria to his young son, stating “This is what the little boys wear here, from your loving Daddy, at the front.”[13] In another to his wife, he remarked on the “impertinence” of a camel, who brought tents down on top of sleeping soldiers.[14] A card was also sent to Sarah listing his new battalion, the 58th Battalion.[15]  

Younger members of the family, corresponded with him. He mentions,” Little Lil’s” letter in correspondence. He also documents meeting and travelling with relatives and friends. Mat’s last card from Alexandria on the 12th June 1916 records him spending time with a neighbour, Norman Robilliard. Another tells of meeting with Sarah’s cousin,  Harry Clive Lyon and passing on the news, that another Timboon friend had been hospitalised. He complained about not receiving his wife’s mail and sent a small photo of himself to be enlarged.( Fig.3) Clive, also send a card to his sister, a teacher at Timboon, reassuring the worried Sarah, that even though she hadn’t had any recent letters, “Mat will be all right.”[16]The fact that family needed to be protected from the harsher facts, seemed to be at the forefront of all, he and other family members wrote.

 On the 25th June 1916, Mathew disembarked at Marseilles.[17] He was then moved from the 58th infantry battalion to the 5th Pioneer Battalion. This would have better suited his skills, because he was a capable timber worker, who was also experienced with tunnel/mine construction and a marksman with Timboon rifle club experience. After a long train trip through the French Country-side and a march, Mathew’s C Company stopped near the front-line, where they built a mile of rail-line in a few days, while being at times strafed by enemy fire.[18]

  A censured card finally arrived for Sarah dated the 4th August 1916. Mathew, by this time, had been in France for nearly a month. As a member of the 5th Pioneer, Mathew was part of C Company. War diaries document that on the next night, C Company barracks took a direct hit from a shell, injuring eight and killing a civilian. Mathew survived. They were then moved from their billets. The King was expected to arrive to inspect the Bomb School, so C Company including Mat were sent to dig trenches there.[19] . After this, his Company, moved to near Armentieres and they worked in a timber yard, behind the front line.

 Sarah’s last letter to Mathew was returned to sender. It was full of district and family news but was never received by him, because sadly, he was already dead. Later documents tell us that he was struck by a naval shell.[20] A direct hit by a naval shell on the Timber yard, where he was working, killed Matthew and eight other men wounding nine others. Mathew was buried near Armentieres in the Honour Cemetery, but was later re-buried in Cite-Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres-Grave 111A7

The lives of Mathew Magill’s family were forever changed by his death. His wife struggled without his emotional and physical support. His children, John Mathew, Lucy May, William Crawford and Blanche Isobel grew up without a male role-model and his loving influence. Mathew’s Timboon community, as many others around Australia, was diminished by the loss of him, his potential contribution and that of his deceased and struggling, returned comrades.  -

Courtesy of Granddaughter Ellen Magill 





Australian Imperial Force War Diaries 1914-1918 -  AWM14/17/7 September 1916

Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Bureau Files 1914-1918 War - IDRL/0428 Matthew Magill 3192 5th Pioneer Battalion.  

Blair, Ron and Affleck, James.  For King and Country.

Great War Enlistments from Warrnambool and District. James Affleck, 2004  

Camperdown Chronicle. -  Original newspaper copy held by E M Magill Ringwood, Victoria

Carter, Lt Col Herbert Gordon Carter, DSO CO, -   A condensed History of the 5th Pioneer Regiment AIF 3March 1916-15 May 1919.  -  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

 Cobden Times and Heytesbury Advisor.

 Harry Clive Lyon, Sgt Card sent to sister, Myrtle Lyon via W H Dalton, Timboon -   Original held by the Townrow family, Bendigo, Victoria

Heytesbury Reformer and Camperdown Advisor.

Magill Family Bible. - Original held by J H Rowe, Timboon, Victoria

Mathew Magill, Cards sent to Sarah Blanche Dalton and William Crawford Magill - Original held by E M Magill Ringwood Victoria.

Sarah Blanche Magill, Letter returned to sender. -  Original held by E. M. Magill, Ringwood, Victoria   

Service Records, B2455, National Archives of Australia.


[1] Family Bible presented to John Matthew Magill by grandparents, Lucy May and William Hardy Dalton. – Original held by J. H. Rowe grandson, Timboon Victoria.
[2] Letter sent from Major A.J. Burton, O.C. C Coy.5 Pioneers to Mrs S. B. Magill- Original held by E. M. Magill, granddaughter.
[3] Letter from Sarah Blanche Magill to Matthew Magill, Cobden 19 October 1916- Original letter returned to sender held by granddaughter, E. M. Magill
[4] Photograph of Matthew Magill, 1915- Original held by E. M. Magill
[5] Order of the White Feather-,au/learn/memorial-boxes/1/white-feather accessed 23 march 2018

[6]  Camperdown Chronicle (Vic 1877-1954) Tues 18 June 1945 Pg.2  Tribute to Memory of Deceased POW /newspaper/article/65432836? Search Term 22%JM 20%Magill?
[7] Heytesbury Reformer and Camperdown Advertiser (Vic 1914-1918) Fri 7th May 1915 Page 2  Scotts Creek
[8] Warrnambool Standard (Vic.1914-1916) Saturday 28 October 1916 Pg.2 Family Notices
[9] Blair, Ron and Affleck, James, “For King and Country. Great War Enlistments from Warrnambool and District.” Published by James Affleck, 2004
[10] Service Record of Matthew Magill 3192 p.1 B2455, National Archives of Australia.
[11] Cobden Times and Heytesbury Adviser (Vic. 1914-1818) Wednesday 25 Aug. 1915 Page2 Timboon
[12] Service Record of Mathew Magill p.8
[13] Card sent from Mathew Magill to William Crawford Magill, 1916. Original held by daughter of William Crawford Magill, E. M. Magill
[14] Card sent from Mathew Magill to Sarah Blanche Magill, Feb. 8th1916. Original held by granddaughter, E. M. Magill
[15] Card sent from Mathew Magill to Sarah Blanche Magill, Feb 27th, 1916. Original held by E.M. Magill
[16] Card sent from Sergeant Harry Clive Lyon, 1254 ALH to sister Myrtle Lyon, June 1916. Original held by the Townrow Family
[17] A Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, AIF.  












[18] A Condensed History of Fifth Pioneer Battalion AIF.
[19] Australian Imperial Force War Diaries.1914-1918 AWM 14/17/7 September 1916.